Category: D+


Bubble1

In order to properly imagine my state of mind while writing this review, you need to pretend that you can hear me sighing in the most frustrated manner imaginable. It has been over a year since I’ve watched a film I disliked this immensely. It was July of 2012 to be specific and I had watched the decidedly unfunny and misogynistic How to Marry a Millionaire with Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe. Generally speaking, my average score for films I dislike is in the “C-” to “C+” range. I’ve given less than five total films (this brings it up to an even five) a score lower than a “C-” in this entire blog’s existence. That’s because even films I loathe like Forrest Gump or Cloud Atlas have a handful of redeeming qualities. No matter how terrible I think they are, there was at least some level of competency that went into their construction. There is nothing competent or enjoyable or redeeming about Steven Soderbergh’s (Magic Mike) 2006 indie Bubble which is a strong contender to be one of the worst, most unnecessary films I’ve ever, not just for this blog but in my entire life.

Set simultaneously in Parkersburg, WV (representing my home state here in the worst possible way imaginable) and Belpre, OH, Bubble is a turgid and excruciatingly paced look at the nihilistic emptiness of life in dead-end jobs in dying towns wrapped within a murder (non)mystery. If that sounds interesting, it could have been. There’s probably some masterful existentialist drama hidden in the thematic ambitions of Bubble. Sadly, the movie is not interesting. Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) and Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) work at a doll factory. Martha is an overweight middle-aged woman caring for her father. Kyle is a driftless twenty-something with no plans or ambition. Martha may or may not be in love with Kyle. A manipulative, pushy single mother Rose (Misty Wilkins) gets a job at the doll factory. She and Kyle start dating. She’s murdered. People begin to suspect Martha.

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I intentionally described the plot in as bare bones terms as possible because that’s literally the film. At a mercifully brief 77 minutes, plot is almost non-existent, and Netflix’s plot description makes it sound like some quirky murder mystery. It isn’t. It’s mostly a series of abysmally performed conversations with plot points seemingly artificially tacked on because Soderbergh and crew didn’t know what to do with these dull characters and non-professional actors. I know that Soderbergh is using the blandness and crippling boredom of the film as a commentary on what life is like in these sorts of towns, particularly if you’re stuck in the dead-end careers of people like Kyle and Martha. But, just because he intended to make the film as agonizingly dull as humanly possible doesn’t mean I have to applaud him for his success.

The comment about non-professional actors wasn’t unintentional. Kyle and Martha share the concept of “lead” in this film, and this was the only film either actor has ever made. Debbie Doebereiner was a manager at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Parkersburg when Soderbergh “discovered” her and decided to cast her in his film. Don’t get me wrong. She certainly looks the part of someone who would be stuck in this lifestyle. That doesn’t make her a good actress and she has the emotional range of a Q-Tip, which actually was probably intentional on Soderbergh’s part. Dustin James Ashley seems like deep down he could probably be a decent actor, but Kyle is as flat a character as a sheet of paper, and with the film’s completely improvised script, he’s not given much substance to work with.

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I love Steven Soderbergh, and though I’m not from Parkersburg, WV, I come from a similar West Virginia town that suffers from all of the malaise that permeates Parkersburg and Belpre. I am a perfect candidate to enjoy this type of film. That I found it to be almost completely unbearable should speak volumes to the insufferably low quality of this production. Soderbergh is an Academy Award winning director (for Traffic), but Bubble feels like something a first year drop-out of film school would make if they somehow stumbled upon the miniscule budget this atrocity was shot on. At his best, Soderbergh is a genius and a poster child for inspired modern independent film-making. But if Bubble is the type of film he makes when he is totally untethered from the strictures of the modern studio system, perhaps its for the best if studio execs are there to keep him from indulging in this sort of pretentious, unwatchable nonsense.

Final Score: D+

 

Lately, I’ve been trying to adopt this more professional, less conversational tone for my film reviews. I’ve been reading my New York Times 1000 Greatest Movies book which features the original views and I’ve been trying to learn lessons on how to write movie reviews better. I dislike this film so intensely that I’m going to have to abandon that pretense for now (not that I’ve been great at keeping up with it lately anyways). I’ve mentioned several times on this blog about how I think that old comedies age significantly better than their dramatic counterparts (whose strict adherence to the Hays code mean that they are almost hopelessly naive and simple compared to modern, more morally complex affairs). How to Marry a Millionaire, the supposed classic starring Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall, is not one of those comedies that’s aged well. Sexist enough that it should have outraged female audiences of its own day, How to Marry a Millionaire is a soporific and deeply unfunny “classic.”

With the express intent of marrying rich men, New York models Schatze (Lauren Bacall), Pola (Marilyn Monroe), and Loco (Betty Grable) rent a glamorous high rise apartment (which was abandoned when its owner had to go on the lam for tax evasion) to set what Schatze calls a “bear trap,” to ensnare rich men. If you make less than six figures, you need not apply. Unbeknownst to Schatze, one of the first men they meet (Cameron Mitchell) is a hundred millionaire, but Schatze sends him off because she thinks he’s a schlub. Pola, who is blind without her glasses (but doesn’t wear them for vanity’s sake), tries to woo a one-eyed con man. Loco goes off on a disastrous trip to Maine with a married oil man while Schatze successfully woos the aging and incredibly wealthy J.D. Hanley (The Thin Man‘s William Powell) despite not having any feelings for him. However, the women quickly learn that love and money aren’t the same thing.

Almost everything about this film is an abject failure. The only time that I laughed that was more than a slight chuckle was when Lauren Bacall was trying to convince William Powell that she liked older men. After name dropping Roosevelt and Churchill, she mentioned “that old guy inThe African Queen” which is, of course, a fourth-wall leaning joke about her relationship with Humphrey Bogart. Other than that, only Marilyn Monroe’s character Pola’s complete stupidity was able to make me even smile. The jokes fell flat. There was far too much expository dialogue without any real jokes, puns, or gags. And other than poking some slight fun to Pola’s blindness, physical humor was completely absent from the film. When Betty Grable attempted to be funny, she just came off as more annoying and shrewish than a comedic leading lady (although none of the women in this film were at all likeable except for Pola).

I love Lauren Bacall. She had a mature and sizzling sexuality that belied her years (and the era when she was a star) that was on fully display in To Have and Have Not. She was able to show off her commanding and imposing presence in How to Marry a Millionaire but she never had an actual chance to be clever or funny. Even her snarky one-liners (which were Bacall’s specialty) fall totally flat. I’m not sure if we were supposed to root for Schatze (cause despite the film’s ending where love triumphs, it’s still an overwhelmingly greed and materialism driven film), but I know that I found her to be entirely unsympathetic. Marilyn Monroe is an awful actress even though she was the only one to make me chuckle besides the Bacall Bogie joke. Thankfully, the character required her to be fairly brainless so it wasn’t exactly a stretch. She’s gorgeous and she had a certain sexual presence, but her acting chops are non-existent.

This film had to have set the feminist movement back to the 1800s. Lauren Bacall’s character is obviously intelligent, but her grand scheme in life is to marry a rich man and not have to work the rest of her life. For shame. She’s one of the most commanding leading ladies ever and the role is beneath her. Katharine Hepburn would not have approved (since it’s essentially the opposite of her character in Woman of the Year). Even by the end of the film, the ladies didn’t learn to be independent. They just learned that the men they could rely on didn’t have to be millionaires (even though two of them have money). The greed on display was disgusting as well. Maybe that’s me allowing my liberal political inclinations to affect my writing, but there was nothing in the film that came down hard on their materialism and desperate desire for wealth. It just said love was stronger. It didn’t say their greed was bad. Gordon Gekko would be proud.

I do not recommend this film to anyone. Even hard core Marilyn Monroe fans. Not even big Lauren Bacall fans (of which I am one). There is virtually nothing redeeming about this picture except for Bacall’s natural magnetism (which is crippled by the script). The film’s an hour and a half long, and I still found myself mentally begging for time to speed up to bring this torture to a close. People wonder why the average “bad” score for a movie is a “C+” to “C-.” It’s because of films like this because at least films in that range have one or two things I can recommend (or are just actively mediocre instead of bad in any major way). I just pray that it’s another several months before my list for this blog forces me to sit through something as painful as this.

Final Score: D+

On this blog, I have a regular conversation about directors who I feel are in the contention for the greatest of all time. Names that pop up on that list regularly include Woody Allen, David Lynch, Federico Fellini, Quentin Tarantino, and Stanley Kubrick. A conversation that doesn’t happen very often (and shouldn’t based on how I choose most of the movies I watch for these blogs which are nominated for major industry awards) is a conversation about who I feel should be considered the worst directors of all time. Uwe Boll wins the competition pretty handily for the 2000’s, as he is seemingly incapable of making a film that isn’t absolutely atrocious. Other nominees could be Brett Ratner, Joel Schumacher, and any given Wayans brother when they are behind the camera. I just finished 2009’s Gentleman Broncos, the most recent film of Napoleon Dynamite creator, Jared Hess, and this film along with the aforementioned cult hit which still stands to me as one of the most over-rated films of the decade, cements my suspicions that Jared Hess should make the list of worst film-makers of the 2000’s.

Gentlemen Broncos stars Michael Angarano as Benjamin Purvis, a quiet and nerdy home-schooled teenager who aspires to be a famous science fiction writer like his hero, Ronald Chevalier (Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement). Benjamin attends a sci-fi writers conference where he gets to meet his hero Ronald, and Benjamin submits one of his novellas in a competition to be a published author. However, Ronald, who is running out of ideas and about to be let go by his publisher, decides to steal Benjamin’s work and pass it off as his own. Along the way, we meet Benjamin’s mother played by Jennifer Coolidge, a widow trying to realize her dreams as a fashion designer, as well as Benjamin’s friends Tabatha and Lonnie who are trying to make Benjamin’s story into an independently produced film.

Much like Napoleon Dynamite, Jared Hess foregoes a traditional joke/gag comedic structure in Gentlemen Broncos, and instead tries to wrest humor from the situational comedy and the awkwardness of the characters and the surroundings. Alas, much like in Napoleon Dynamite, these characters aren’t funny because they’re awkward, like say the cast of Freaks and Geeks, and instead are just awkward and terribly painful to watch. The film tries to straddle this fine line between so terrible, it’s funny, but more often than not it lands on the so terrible, it’s bad side of that equation. The only moments in which the film was able to elicit any humorous response from me were during the imaginary fantasy sequences where Ben would see a cheesy sci-fi movie version of his book which was so over-the-top in the way it lampooned old sci-fi movies that I actually had a good laugh at the satire. Unfortunately, every scene that occurred in the real world of the film was completely devoid of any humor or intelligence.

The film only had two redeeming qualities. The first was the presence of Jemaine Clement whose very existence gave the film the only life it really had. He’s such a strange and enigmatic individual that just watching him play any character makes a film at least tolerable (except not this time). His accent which was like a strange cross-breed between Orson Welles and Peter Lorre was good for a laugh or two. Second, the soundtrack was pretty good, and I wouldn’t mind owning it. Other than that, this film was complete and utter garbage and I can’t recommend it to anyone. I feel pretty much the exact same way about Napoleon Dynamite, so apparently I just don’t get Jared Hess’ brand of humor, except I know what he’s attempting to do. I just don’t think it’s funny. The only people I can recommend this film to are fans of his previous work, and I will never understand those people.

Final Score: D+